John Rome has a lot on his plate. It’s an early afternoon on a hot day in late summer, and the football coach is busy in his office. While answering phone calls every few minutes, he turns away a player who wants to play on the team this season.
“See me in November to talk about next year,” he says. He gets up to talk to colleagues who request to see him outside his office. “It’s always hectic in here,” he says with a smile.
Not that he’s complaining.
Handling this kind of responsibility comes with the job of being head football coach at Glendale Community College, a title the 52-year-old Rome can finally lay claim to after three stints as a Vaquero assistant coach. He takes over for John Cicuto this season, who stepped down to become the full-time men’s athletic director.
“I love it here.” Rome says. “I’m here as long as they’ll have me.”
With more than 30 years of coaching experience under his belt, Rome has experienced all of the highs and lows life has to offer, both professionally and personally. These days, he’s a happy man, realizing that life
can take you places you don’t always expect to go.
A Southland native, Rome graduated from Burbank High School in 1974, where he was a Foothill League all-American defensive end. After playing collegiate football at the University of La Verne, where he earned several defensive honors, Rome looked toward a career in coaching.
“I knew I was going to teach, and I knew I wanted to coach and teach,” Rome said.
After coaching at the high school level, he made his first stop at GCC in 1982 as an assistant coach. The Vaqueros won the Western State Conference that year and again in 1983.
Rome moved up to the big time in 1984, serving as a graduate assistant coach for UCLA, which afforded him the opportunity to work under legendary Bruins coach Terry Donahue.
“[Terry] was incredibly practical. He was fair in his dealings with people, and [unwavering] in his conviction in what he wanted to do.” Learning under Donahue furthered Rome’s drive to move up the coaching ladder.
“I had aspirations of being a head coach at the Division 1-A level,” said Rome.
He took an assistant coaching position at the University of New Mexico in 1987, saying, “it was more responsibility and more money.” But the team didn’t win, and the staff underwent numerous coaching changes.
Rome’s opinion of Division I-A football was beginning to sour. He cited “shallowness” as a reason for his views and said, “I didn’t want to sacrifice the things I believed in. I wanted to have a major impact on young men to become better students, and young men.”
Rome came back to Glendale to coach in 1990, but had to do a juggling act for a while. Aside from coaching, he was teaching junior high history during the day and working on his master’s degree at night.
Rome continued to teach middle school and coach at Glendale until he took the head coaching job at Citrus College in 1995. Citrus made the Potato Bowl in Bakersfield that year and in six seasons the team compiled a 32-29 record.
However, Rome had problems during his tenure at Citrus. He was not working in a full-time position, and had to look for outside jobs to support his family.
“I took lots of jobs. I was a janitor. I managed the driving range facilities [at Citrus],” he recalled.
One job required him to pass out packets at a school for disaffected youth who couldn’t even last at continuation school. He says this all with a shrug. “I did what I had to do.”
Eventually, his marriage suffered and he and his wife divorced. “That lifestyle is hard on families. That [relationship] grew apart.”
His professional relationships were being strained as well. Rome pushed for a full-time position at Citrus, but he says he ruffled too many feathers in the way he went about it. “I alienated some in the administration. Being young, too aggressive. It was foolish.”
Citrus eventually created a full-time position for head coach, but Rome was not asked to be a part of it.
As it turned out, he returned to Glendale in 2001 as an assistant coach to Cicuto. Now, in 2008 as head coach, Rome has come full circle in his professional career.
Rome remarried in 2004, and he and his wife Mary welcomed a baby girl to their family in 2005. In all, their family consists of 11 children. “But that’s not adversity. Adversity is sharing an office with Alex,” he jokes, as he looks over toward Alex Leon, the sports information director.
Rome describes his personality as one that always looks to improve, whether it’s at home life or on the field with his team. He tries to do both with his son Alex, 21, who is the starting tight end for the Vaqueros. “[Alex] would probably say I’m uncompromising,” although Rome would disagree with that assessment.
Rome recognizes that football is not the be-all and end-all in life, especially in a community college. “It’s important that we treat football for what it is. [The players] are here to get educated.” A specific life lesson Rome likes to point to? “Football teaches you that you can’t always get what you want.”
Rome has nothing but praise for former athletic director Jim Sartoris, as he hopes to continue the values Sartoris and others put in place here over the years. “The foundation is always try to be successful,” adding, “it’s about character.”
Cicuto is confident Rome is the right man for the job.
“We have a pretty good reputation of doing things the right way. John has a good understanding of our philosophy. He cares about everybody, from the first team guy to the second team guy.”
Cicuto describes Rome as “extremely organized” and praises his recruiting ability. “I thought John did a great job of recruiting the freshman class this year. [He recruits] not only players, but people.”
Building both a foundation of winning as well as developing character players is a challenge, especially since the Vaqueros joined the tough Northern Conference National Division this season, but last Saturday Rome was able to celebrate his first victory as head coach, as Glendale defeated East Los Angeles College 75-21.
Leon is more than willing to share his praise of Rome. “He expects that the young men put in as much work as the coaches do. He’s a hard worker. The challenge is to get them all on the same page and perform on the highest level. He does a great job of that.”